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Posts Tagged ‘covid-19’

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Irish cook Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary) in a hospital bed. She never had symptoms and refused to believe she was giving people typhoid.

In the pandemic, many people spending extra time at home are sorting through “stuff,” and my husband is no exception. The other day, he brought out a program from a play he saw in Minneapolis in the 1990s: Forgiving Typhoid Mary.

The contemporary relevance of Typhoid Mary was not lost on me. Mary Mallon (1869 – 1938), by all accounts a good cook, was placed in a number of homes by employment agencies, and had no clue why people where she worked kept getting typhoid.

Wikipedia describes her as “an Irish-born cook believed to have infected 53 people with typhoid fever, three of whom died, and the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the disease. Because she persisted in working as a cook, by which she exposed others to the disease, she was twice forcibly quarantined by authorities, and died after a total of nearly three decades in isolation. … Presumably, she was born with typhoid because her mother was infected during pregnancy.”

Wikipedia explains that she worked for several affluent families where typhoid appeared mysteriously, including “a position in Oyster Bay on Long Island with the family of a wealthy New York banker, Charles Henry Warren.” Shortly after that assignment, “in late 1906, Mallon was hired by Walter Bowen, whose family lived on Park Avenue. Their maid got sick on January 23, 1907, and soon Charles Warren’s only daughter got typhoid and died. This case helped to identify Mallon as the source of the infections.

George Soper, an investigator hired by Warren after the outbreak in Oyster Bay, had been trying to determine the cause of typhoid outbreaks in well-to-do families, when it was known that the disease typically struck in unsanitary environments.

“He discovered that a female Irish cook, who fitted the physical description he had been given, was involved in all of the outbreaks. He was unable to locate her because she generally left after an outbreak began, without giving a forwarding address. Soper then learned of an active outbreak in a penthouse on Park Avenue and discovered Mallon was the cook. Two of the household’s servants were hospitalized, and the daughter of the family died of typhoid.

Soper first met Mallon in the kitchen of the Bowens and accused her of spreading the disease. Though Soper himself recollected his behavior as ‘as diplomatic as possible,’ he infuriated Mallon and she threatened him with a carving fork.

“When Mallon refused to give samples, Soper decided to compile a five-year history of her employment. He found that of the eight families that had hired Mallon as a cook, members of seven claimed to have contracted typhoid fever. Then Soper found out where Mallon’s boyfriend lived and arranged a new meeting there. He took Dr. Raymond Hoobler in an attempt to convince Mary to give them samples of urine and stool for analysis. Mallon again refused to cooperate, believing that typhoid was everywhere and that the outbreaks had happened because of contaminated food and water. At that time, the concept of healthy carriers was unknown even to healthcare workers.”

Hmmm. If a cook who emigrated from Ireland at 15, presumably without much education, failed to understand something that no one at the time knew about, I guess a case could be made for “forgiving” her. Not sure the same can be said for the super-spreaders of Covid-19. When I think of health-care workers exposing themselves every day and “seeing the regret” in the eyes of dying patients, it really makes my blood boil.

By the way, the relevance of Typhoid Mary was not lost on a theater in the Berkshires either. Alas, I did my online search too late and missed out on the Barrington Stage Company reading of Forgiving Typhoid Mary by a few days. If you’re as curious as I was about the “forgiving” aspect of the title, you can read the 1991 New York Times review, here, which provides a hint.

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Photo: UWisc
Ugandan Bobi Wine and Nubian Li. perform a coronavirus alert.

When pandemic restrictions caused the cancellation of African musicians’ concerts, many took the coronavirus battle into their own hands, without having to be asked by any government to create a public service announcement.

Public Radio International’s The World reports on the wave of Covid-19 songs giving Africans reliable information and warning against fake health news on social media.

“When graduate student Dipo Oyeleye heard the song ‘We Go Win (Corona)‘ by Cobhams Asuquo, a Nigerian singer-songwriter,” the radio show reported in September, “he knew what his next research project would be: a study of the myriad coronavirus songs that flourished in Africa at the pandemic’s onset on the continent. …

” ‘I love artists using the moment to create music that actually helps to disseminate the right information to the general public,’ Oyeleye told The World.

“Originally from Nigeria himself, Oyeleye studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is now researching COVID-19 songs from Nigeria to Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo to Ghana, among many other places across the continent. Oyelele has been able to compile and track the impact of at least 50 songs from various African artists.

“Unlike the US, where very few artists have taken on COVID-19 as a subject in songs, African musicians quickly turned to their songwriting as a form of communication and to disseminate crucial public health information: social distancing, washing hands and staying home during lockdowns. 

” ‘This is a major [pandemic that] directly affects everybody, including the musicians. Some of them had to cancel their shows. I think the personal became political,’ Oyeleye explained. 

“Having battled epidemics such as the Ebola virus, most Africans are used to governments that call on musicians to produce ‘edutainment,’ or songs with a message to sensitize the public. 

“But Oleyele says that what makes the coronavirus songs different is that it was not ‘necessarily initiated by the governments. It’s just, you know, individuals lending their voices to help prevent the spread of the virus.’ 

“Some artists took a direct public health approach, while others used humor or religion to ease fears and connect with various communities. And some songs were specifically meant for people who could only communicate in local languages. There’s really something for everyone. …  

” ‘Wash your hands / love each other / we go win o,’ [Asuquo] croons at the piano.

“In [a] reggae-inspired song, Bobi Wine opens with the bad news that ‘everyone is a potential victim’ of the virus, but also a potential solution … and calls it ‘patriotic’ to social distance and isolate if sick with possible virus symptoms.” More at PRI’s The World, here. Extra details at the Washington Post, here.

I’m impressed with these musicians. Will we get songs to slow the spread here, too?

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Photo: RVshare
RVs4MDs is a volunteer group that has been matching altruistic recreational vehicle owners with medical workers in need of temporary housing during the pandemic.

I’m grateful to people who witness some kindness in our troubled world and let the rest of us know about it so we don’t lose all faith in humanity. To my way of thinking, it doesn’t even matter how few people are involved in the example, just that there is a kindness plant growing somewhere.

At the Boston Globe, Leila Philip wrote recently about something her neighbor signed up to do.

“The text from my neighbor had come at 5 a.m., ‘Mother passed yesterday evening.’ … My neighbor had been caring for her mother, who had dementia for many years, and for the past three weeks she had been keeping vigil, not leaving the house and living mostly on oatmeal. When I offered to make her a rhubarb crisp, she answered emphatically, ‘Yes!’

“As I pulled into her driveway, I was startled to see an enormous motor home. Even more startled when my neighbor popped out, broom in hand. Was she already planning a trip?

“ ‘You didn’t know I had this, did you?’ she said, taking the still-warm crisp. Then she explained that she’d been waiting for an opportunity to list her Coachman with RVs4MDs, a volunteer group that was matching RV owners with medical workers in need of temporary housing.

My neighbor had just lost her mother, but there she was, cleaning her expensive motor home so she could loan it to someone else whose life had been upended by COVID-19. …

“Rvs4MDs began when two women in Texas saw a concrete way to help others. Within a week of their putting up their Facebook page, hundreds of people had joined as volunteers. … They have matched 1,500 RVs with nurses, doctors, EMTs, and paramedics. …

“Said Holly Haggard, one of the founders. ‘It has brought hope to so many.’ Her cofounder, Emily Phillips, agreed, ‘We didn’t realize it when we started, but in addition to helping medical workers, we were building a community. Nobody brings their politics to the group.’ …

“Barbara Ludwig is a professor of nursing with a specialization in critical care. An Air Force veteran, she did not hesitate when the call came in April to work in a COVID-19 unit, but she had a problem: Members of her immediate family were high risk, and she feared bringing the virus home and infecting them.

“Barbara was in the middle of searching for an affordable hotel room when she learned about Rvs4MDs. She posted about her situation and Krystal Muci responded, offering to loan her 42-foot-long motor home. Within days, Krystal and her husband had not only driven their RV to Barbara’s house outside Kansas City (a three-hour drive), but had found an electrician to do the needed electrical work and complete the hookup.

“When Barbara got off shift and walked into the RV, she found a gift basket and a poster of photographs of her family that Krystal had made. …

“ ‘Knowing someone had cared enough to do this for me, it brought tears to my eyes,’ said Barbara, ‘and it allowed me to focus on taking care of patients because I knew my family was safe. In my work as a critical care nurse I am used to dealing with mortality, but the amount of loss that was happening every day … it took a toll on me that I was not prepared for.’ …

“Now that we are six months into the pandemic, the unprecedented emotional toll it has had on the mental health of caregivers and health care workers has begun to emerge. Preliminary studies in Italy show that over one-half of health care workers there suffered some form of PTSD. …

“More than 192,000 Americans are dead of COVID-19. [Meanwhile] ordinary Americans like my neighbor and the many volunteers at Rvs4MD show how we can prevail — when we remember our American tradition of lending a hand, the transformative power of kindness.”

More at the Globe, here.

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Covid-19 guidance seems to change every few days. In the beginning, we were very anxious about wiping down every little thing with Clorox. Now we are more worried about the droplets we breathe in and whether the kids’ schools have adequate air circulation.

Performers worry, too, which is why one European orchestra armed itself with facts before bringing in an audience.

Eva Amsen reports at Forbes, “Last week, violinist Daniel Froschauer was in Salzburg with the Vienna Philharmonic, of which he is also the Chairman. The orchestra played at the Salzburg Festival the entire month of August, under strict regulations to ensure that the musicians and their audience are at minimal risk of catching or spreading the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. …

The Vienna Philharmonic was one of the first professional orchestras to return to rehearsals and performances since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t carried out their own small research study into the way droplets disperse on stage while musicians play. …

“The case of a choir rehearsal in Washington state back in March was a wake-up call for many musical ensembles. The choir thought they were prepared. They didn’t hug, they stood six feet apart throughout their two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal, and they didn’t share food during the break. Despite their precautions, 53 members of the 61-piece choir caught Covid-19, and two died.

“If such a spread could happen at a choir rehearsal, then an orchestra or band rehearsal – particularly one with wind and brass instruments – might pose a similar risk. The virus can be passed on through tiny airborne droplets called aerosols from an infected individual’s mouth or nose. …

“Until a few months ago, we knew very little about how wind instruments spread droplets. It was only since the Covid-19 pandemic that orchestras and other ensembles suddenly needed to understand exactly how singing or playing instruments could spread the virus so that they could mitigate the risk. …

“The Vienna Philharmonic enlisted the help of physician Fritz Sterz. Initially, Sterz and Froschauer hoped that the Vienna Philharmonic members were immune already. The orchestra had passed through Wuhan on a tour of Asia in late 2019, perhaps already encountering the virus there. But this didn’t seem to be the case: Only one member of the orchestra tested positive in an antibody test.

“The next step was to figure out how rehearsals were putting them at risk, by determining how aerosols were formed around their instruments. …

“Sterz and the orchestra found a creative way to visualise the aerosols’ movement. Each musician was placed in front of a dark background and wore a device up their nose to produce aerosols as they breathed.

While playing their instruments, the musicians dispersed the droplets, and a photographer captured images of the cloud of aerosols surrounding each musician.

“By measuring the dispersal of the droplets for each instrument, Sterz was able to get a sense of which musicians created the largest air flow around them. Unsurprisingly, it was the wind musicians. …

“In lieu of the traditional peer review process that follows most scientific studies, the Vienna Philharmonic worked with a notary to verify that they carried out the procedures as they said they did, and that the results were what they measured. It wasn’t the way research is usually done, but it was enough to convince the Austrian government.

“In May, Froschauer got a call from the Austrian Prime Minister. The Vienna Philharmonic was allowed to rehearse, record and perform again, albeit under very strict conditions. To make it work, the musicians are regularly tested, stay a safe distance apart on stage, wear masks when they have to be near each other in the hallways, and limit the size of the audience. …

“In the United States, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the College Band Directors National Association funded the Performing Arts Aerosol Study to determine the best recommendations for school bands, orchestras and other performing arts groups returning to practice this fall term.

Shelly Miller, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, is one of the lead researchers on the study. She explains, … ‘Once we knew what the flow looked like, we probed those flows to measure the particles in the flow.’ …

“From the preliminary results, the Performing Arts Aerosol Study concluded that certain safety precautions needed to be put in place before bands and school orchestras could return to rehearsals.

“It’s worth noting here that these various studies into the spread of aerosols between musicians nicely illustrate how the pandemic has changed the pace of scientific research. Normally, research is slow and the process of verifying, publishing and reviewing the work can be slower than the studies itself. But everything was different this summer. Music groups needed advice about returning to rehearsals and pushed for the research to be carried out, soon. …

“ ‘It’s really intense,’ says Miller.” More at Forbes, here.

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Photo: Peter Means.
Linsey Marr’s unusual set of skills puts her in high demand for insight into Covid-19 aerosol dangers.

With new Covid-19 data coming out every day, I am a bit less anxious about potential germs on the groceries and a bit more concerned about how long a contaminated droplet can last in the air and how many droplets it takes to get sick. Even the experts don’t know. But it sure is reassuring to read about people who are on the case. Dr. Linsey Marr, for example.

Tara Parker-Pope wrote about her recently at the New York Times. “When Linsey Marr’s son started attending day care 12 years ago, she noticed that he kept getting sick with the sniffles and other minor illnesses. But unlike most parents, Dr. Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, tried to figure out why. …

“Dr. Marr was uniquely equipped to tackle the problem [of airborne illness]. She had graduated with an engineering science degree from Harvard University, where she developed an interest in air pollution during her daily runs breathing car exhaust on nearby Boston streets.

“She earned a doctorate in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, and completed post-doctorate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with Mario J. Molina, a Nobel laureate recognized for research into ozone damage caused by chlorofluorocarbon gases.

“But it was during that first foray into day care germs that she discovered how little was known about airborne transmission of viruses.

‘I was surprised to find out we don’t even know how much of the flu is spread through the air or through touching,’ Dr. Marr said. …

“Now, Dr. Marr’s maternal and scientific curiosity and her multidisciplinary background have made her one of the world’s leading scientists on airborne viruses. Her research led to the publication of a groundbreaking study that found flu virus in microscopic droplets that were small enough to remain floating in the air for an hour or more. …

“Public health officials in the United States and with the World Health Organization have called on Dr. Marr for her expertise, and scientists from all over the world have asked her to review their papers. Her lab has focused on testing new materials to solve shortages of personal protective equipment for medical workers. Working with her colleagues and graduate students, Dr. Marr’s lab found that a large stockpile of expired respirator masks were still effective but that 3-D printed masks unfortunately were not.

“ ‘There are not many people who are trained engineers who also study infectious disease,’ said Dr. X.J. Meng, a Virginia Tech professor who studies emerging animal viruses. … ‘Linsey is one of very few scientists who has this ability to study aerosol transmission because she can use the engineering tools to study the dynamics of viruses and bacteria in the air.’ …

“Part of the reason Dr. Marr has become so popular in public forums is her ability to explain difficult scientific concepts in easy-to-understand terms. She uses the visual of cigarette smoke when explaining viral plumes. To explain a concept called Brownian motion — and why masks can more easily filter the smallest microscopic particles — she uses the analogy of a drunken person stumbling into chairs and walls while trying to cross a room. ‘The particle is the drunk person, and the chairs are the fibers of the masks,’ she says. ‘The fibers stop the particles.’

“When people began asking whether their clothes could be covered in virus after going to the store or walking outdoors, she gave us all a lesson in aerodynamics.

Just as bugs don’t smash into the windshield of a slow-moving car because they’re carried by air currents alongside the car, lingering viral particles also slip by the human body as we move, and don’t smash into our clothes, she explained. …

“She used mathematical models to determine the safety of hugging during a viral outbreak, taking photos with her daughter in various hug positions to explain how to lower risk. She collaborated with Dutch researchers on how we can safely return to the gym. And her team is in the midst of research on the benefits of homemade masks.

“But the demand for Dr. Marr’s expertise also highlights an alarming problem in the study of viruses and respiratory illness. There are, perhaps, fewer than a dozen scientists around the world with extensive expertise in aerosol transmission of viruses, but funding for their research often falls between the cracks of different disciplines. Basic science grants tend to view airborne viruses as a topic to be supported by health funds. But health agencies tend to focus on how a virus behaves inside the body, not how it gets there. Environmental scientists may study waterborne pathogens or air pollution, but they don’t typically focus on airborne transmission of disease. …

“Despite knowing more than most of us about the risks posed by the coronavirus, Dr. Marr exudes a sense of calm about managing risks. She has access to top-rated N95 medical masks, but she chooses to wear a cloth mask, like the rest of us. … ‘For the things we don’t know, it’s good to err on the safe side, but also to not be paranoid.’

“Dr. Marr said she personally focuses on a ‘top four’ for lowering risk — social distancing, avoiding crowds, wearing a mask and washing hands.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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The English National Opera (ENO) is rethinking how to stage productions for the current self-distancing environment. A lot depends on when driving restrictions might be lifted.

Mark Brown writes at the Guardian, “English National Opera (ENO) has announced plans for what are thought to be the world’s first drive-in opera performances.

“Planned for the first three weeks of September, the idea is to stage live performances in the grounds of Alexandra Palace, north London, with musicians and singers spaced out to conform with physical distancing guidelines. If successful, ENO hopes to roll out the ‘Drive & Live’ concept to other parts of the UK.

“Stuart Murphy, ENO’s chief executive, told the Guardian it was part of the company’s mission of ‘opera for everyone.’ He said: ‘It is a bit of an experiment and if it works it might be a way of bringing the art form to people in a totally different and authentic way.’ …

“The idea is that the audience would be in 300 cars, with the bigger vehicles at the back. People on motorbikes and pedal cycles would also be allowed. Then windows go down and the audience watches the live performance unfold on a specially constructed set.

“The audience reaction could be interesting, Murphy said. ‘Instead of clapping or shouting “bravo,” it might be that people flash their lights or honk their horn. As long as it’s authentic, we’re not going to force it.

“ ‘I think it could attract a whole new generation to opera, people who love their car, see it as an extension to themselves.’ …

“Murphy said if the concept worked, then he could see drive-in operas being staged at racecourses or historic properties. ‘We’ve also had a couple of really productive conversations with international opera houses who think we’re on to something. It is an attempt to square the circle and let people have a big collective moment while staying safe.’

“The first 12 performances will be a shortened 90-minute version of Puccini’s La Bohème and a one-hour family-friendly version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

The first show will be free for National Health Service and frontline workers. …

“Murphy, who joined ENO in 2018 after a career in TV [said] all arts companies needed now to be ‘nimble and quick’ and react to circumstances, but at the moment ENO was not planning for seats being empty. …

“Some countries have allowed drive-in cinemas to remain open during the lockdown. Germany, for example, has two year-round operations, in Essen and Cologne. According to the Hollywood Reporter, both have sold out for every screening since Germany’s lockdown was declared. Makeshift drive-ins are also popping up around the country.

“In the US, the spiritual home of the drive-in, fewer than 25 of the nation’s 320 drive-ins are reportedly open for business, but that could change. The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, said [in April that] he would consider allowing drive-ins to reopen. ‘Where is the public safety issue? It’s a drive-in theatre. You’re in the car with the same people,’ he said.”

Photo: Donald Cooper/Photostage
An English National Opera production of
The Magic Flute in the Good Old Days of 2019. Today ENO operas must take Covid-19 and social distancing into account.

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Photo: Slung Low
The Slung Low theater group sorting out food parcels at their headquarters in Leeds, England.

Many companies and nonprofits around the world have been stepping up to meet new needs during the lockdown. This story is about an innovative UK theater delivering food to the hungry.

Ian Youngs reports at the BBC, “When you’re suddenly tasked with co-ordinating emergency food parcel deliveries to vulnerable local people during a pandemic, the ability to think creatively comes in useful. As artistic director of one of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies, Alan Lane is used to coming up with imaginative solutions.

“But they normally involve finding ways to stage epic community theatre shows, not making sure hundreds of people have the food and medicines they need in a lockdown.

” ‘Today we find ourselves with a Transit van full of crisps,’ he says on the phone from Leeds. … Yesterday we didn’t have any vegetables. And tomorrow we’re not going to have any eggs. So constantly I’m on the phone doing deals.

‘The other day, I swapped a load of tote bags that I got from the university for some face masks, which I split in half and swapped the other half for a lot of cream. …

“Six weeks ago, Lane and his company Slung Low were asked by Leeds City Council to co-ordinate the community response in Holbeck and Beeston, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed to them.

“They are mainly from people needing food, but prescriptions need dropping off too, and they are often asked to just phone lonely people for a chat.

“Lane is in charge of around 90 volunteers, including some from the region’s other arts organisations — from Opera North and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to theatre company Red Ladder. …

“Managing them is not the only new role Lane has taken on during the pandemic. When not scrounging and delivering food, he has become a game show host, and a very entertaining one at that — appearing online every fortnight from Slung Low’s HQ to keep locals’ spirits up. …

“On top of that, he has launched an open-air art gallery, posting residents’ lockdown pictures on lampposts. And Slung Low has just made a short film — shot before coronavirus rewrote Lane’s job description — which went online on Friday.

” ‘We didn’t know this at the time, but having a short film to release at the moment is much better than having a play,’ he says.

“Except — he will be taking an enforced break from all that frenetic activity for a while. [A Covid-19 test] came back negative, but he has symptoms so is isolating and recovering. Others have stepped in to ensure Slung Low’s work goes on. …

“The connection with the local community is what sets Slung Low apart from other theatre companies and means it can adapt to doing things like delivering food during a crisis, Lane says.

“Other venues have been busy putting their shows online and continuing their education and outreach activities digitally, but Lane thinks they could be doing more with their facilities.

” ‘There are a lot of vans currently sat in the car parks of arts organisations because they couldn’t quite work out the insurance to get them doing food bank work,’ he says. … ‘We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re for at Slung Low. What we’re for is not putting on a show for people to pay for tickets.

” ‘[Putting on a show is] something we do quite a bit, and something that we can be quite good at on a good day. But it’s not what we’re for. And therefore, when you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean we stop.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

Although people in the arts may not be uniquely compassionate, they’re often among the first to demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of others. Still, gold stars for a city council that thought of asking for the theater’s help!

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Photo: Celeste Sloman for the Washington Post
In New York City, where the Covid-19 lockdown is putting many residents in danger of going hungry, immigrants at Migrant Kitchen are feeding multitudes.

I always like stories about how much immigrants benefit America, and this one from the Washington Post is a great example.

Richard Morgan writes, “At 5:30 a.m. in a godforsaken industrial crevice of Queens, Daniel Dorado recently waited in a line of mostly undocumented restaurant workers before the opening of Restaurant Depot, a wholesaler like Costco on steroids available only to the industry. His goal was 2,000 meal containers, and, boom, he was in and out in 12 minutes.

“The containers would soon be packed with sumptuous entrees: citrus garlic salmon with Cuban black beans and coconut herb rice, or moussaka-stuffed zucchini with dirty rice and beans, or mojo chicken with chimichurri and roasted potatoes with grilled shishito peppers. …

“Dorado, an American-born son of a Mexican immigrant, has been running what is probably New York’s largest restaurant-quality active cooking operation during the pandemic lockdown, serving 6,000 meals a day.

“Last year he and two former colleagues from Ilili, a Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant in the Flatiron District, formed the Migrant Kitchen NYC, ostensibly a catering company, which orchestrated an alliance with four other kitchens. …

“As much attention as beleaguered restaurants have gotten in the pandemic’s lockdown, far less attention has been paid to catering companies, which can produce food on a massive scale but not within the limits of a la carte orders available through delivery apps. Enter Migrant Kitchen. They pay wages of $20 to $25 an hour in their kitchen, [Nasser Jaber, a Palestinian immigrant who was an Ilili waiter,] said, and with the four other kitchens pooled 40 largely undocumented workers from Make The Road, a civil rights group — plus workers and volunteers who handle packing and delivery. …

What started out on March 13 with 100 meals to hospitals and shelters quickly grew to 6,000 meals a day to 13 hospitals, four food pantries, three homeless shelters, three senior centers, public housing complexes in the Bronx and Queens, a Queens mosque and dozens of covid-19-infected families. …

“A few days before Ramadan began on April 23, they switched all meals to halal-certified. ‘We don’t just want to give people food,’ Dorado said. ‘We want them to know we took their needs into consideration. We don’t want anyone getting food that they don’t want to eat. It’s for them, not for us.’ For families, Migrant Kitchen also makes grocery bags of staples like eggs and milk, and tucks in chicken tenders or pizza for children. Even diapers. …

“Sam Bloch, [World Central Kitchen’s] director of field operations, laid out Migrant Kitchen’s strength: ‘It’s beautiful, right? How many win-wins can you have? Where the food is coming from, who’s making it, how it’s supporting that individual person, how it’s supporting that [kitchen], and all that built on top of the fact that someone who really needs that plate of food is receiving it.’ …

“Head chef Ryan Graham explained the [Migrant Kitchen] mission: ‘A lot of big-batch cooking … doesn’t monitor seasoning, the flavor, the texture, the veg, the meat, the starch, the digestion, the nutrition.’ By contrast, he noted, he was slow-cooking a sauce that included 20 spices for nine hours. One of his cooks also recommended that a dish’s tomato paste be caramelized. (Bloch called the approach ‘food with dignity.’) …

” ‘I’m trying to keep myself strong. I’m alone but I don’t feel lonely,’ said a 76-year-old Bangladeshi man who lives by himself in the heavy-hit Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. …

“He said he was ashamed to be publicly identified as in need. He hasn’t left his home since the first week of March. His income is $500 a month. Through [social justice group Desis Rising Up and Moving, DRUM, his Migrant Kitchen meals — two a day — come every afternoon, but, in accordance with Ramadan, he waits until sunset and pre-dawn to eat them. ‘It’s a blessing for old people,’ he said. ‘It’s an example for humanity.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Finnbarr Webster / Getty Images
The UK’s “Sturminster Newton Mill has stood on the banks of the River Stour in Dorset County since 1016,” writes the
Smithsonian. It was called up out of retirement to help feed the populace during the Covid-19 pandemic.

You’ve heard of old soldiers reenlisting to fight a war and medical people being called out of retirement to fight a pandemic.

In this story, we learn about a 1,000-year-old decommissioned mill in England that is rolling again. (Imagine being able to talk about 1,000 years ago! In this country, only indigenous people can do that.)

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “Flour has been in high demand and short supply during the coronavirus pandemic. Imogen Bittner and Pete Loosmore knew they were in a unique position to help home bakers in southwest England by firing up a mill site that is more than 1,000 years old.

“So the two millers, who help run the Sturminster Newton Mill and the adjacent museum, decided in early April that it was time to dust off their aprons and go back to the grind.

“They cranked up the ancient machinery at the mill, which has been updated through the years but has been powered by a water turbine since 1904. In recent years, it has been used exclusively as a museum that churns out small ornamental bags of flour for visitors in the small town of Sturminster Newton in Dorset county.

‘When covid-19 struck, all of the local shops ran out of flour very quickly,’ said Loosmore, 79, a retired art teacher who has worked at the mill for 25 years. ‘We had a stock of good-quality milling wheat and the means and skills to grind it into flour, so we thought we could help.’

“In the past month, with the mill operating full-time in the agricultural town of 5,000 people, he estimates they have ground more than a ton of grain and bagged several hundred sacks of flour. The three-pound bags are sold at cost to a local grocer and baker, who then sell them, said Bittner, with all proceeds benefiting the mill’s upkeep.

“ ‘We’ve been inundated with requests to sell it online or in large quantities, but we are not a commercial business,’ said Bittner, 63, an artist who began learning the art of milling 18 months ago and plans to take over as supervisor when Loosmore retires next year.

“Bittner, who has traveled the world but now lives in the home in which she was born near the mill, said she has always been drawn to the historical structure along the River Stour.

“ ‘It’s been amazing to work alongside oak beams that have been inside the mill since the 14th century and which were probably [trees] growing locally in the 10th and 11th centuries,’ [Bittner] said. ‘Although there have been adaptations and changes, these gnarled old timbers still hold the roof in place.’ …

“Loosmore said the mill, which is managed by the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust, is treasured by locals, who volunteer every year to bag flour for museum visitors and help with maintenance. …

The wooden water mill dates to 1016, he said, and is mentioned in agricultural records in the Domesday Book, a ‘survey’ of England and Wales written in 1086 by order of William the Conqueror. …

“[It’s] a building that has survived everything from war to the Black Death.

” ‘It’s just a wonderful historical attraction — we have details from abbey documents dating back to the 13th century naming some of the millers and describing their roles, rents and obligations,” said Bittner, adding that one miller in 1230 paid part of his rent in eels.’ ”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: John Moore / Getty Images
Stamford elementary school teacher Luciana Lira, 42, kisses baby Neysel, then 2 1/2 weeks, before showing the newborn for the first time to his mother Zully, a Guatemalan asylum seeker gravely ill with COVID-19, and her son Junior, 7, via Zoom.

I wanted my blog to be the first place you saw this story, but you can’t keep a good story down. Yesterday I noticed that the Washington Post had picked it up from a May 2 report by Christine Dempsey at the Hartford Courant. Read on.

“One month ago,” Dempsey wrote, “Luciana Lira, a bilingual teacher at a Stamford elementary school, got a call from a parent like no other. The mom, gravely ill with the coronavirus and about to deliver a premature baby, could barely breathe. ‘Miss Lira?’ she said in Spanish. ‘I need help.’

“The call set off a chain of events that led to Lira agreeing to take the woman’s newborn while the mother and her other family members recover from COVID-19. The 42-year-old educator spent most of April teaching online during the day and warming up bottles and feeding the baby at night, all while looking after her own son, husband and in-laws.

“For the baby’s mother, Zully, recovery has been slow. Her breathing tube was removed only on April 18, and she still is testing positive for COVID-19. Zully’s son — Lira’s student — Junior, 7, also tested positive, as did Zully’s husband, Marvin. …

“In the urgent phone call, Zully asked Lira to call her husband, Marvin. She gave Lira his number.

“At the time, Lira wouldn’t have known Marvin if she walked into him, she said. … But after Zully’s April 1 request, Lira was now on the phone with him, speaking Spanish, and he was a mess.

” ‘All he could do is cry. And cry. And cry,’ Lira said. …

“Lira realized she needed to act as an interpreter for the family. So she went to the hospital, but was turned away when staff learned that she was not a relative. A few days later, with Marvin’s approval, she was allowed to receive medical information on behalf of the family. Lira was now the point person for communication between Marvin and Stamford Hospital. In addition to talking to Marvin, she has been communicating with family members as far away as Guatemala.

“Her role was stressful. Zully was doing very poorly. She delivered her 5-pound, 12-ounce baby boy while in a medically induced coma, Lira said. …

“While Zully lay in a hospital bed, unaware she had given birth, the conversation turned to the baby, who eventually was named Neysel. …

“Marvin, who strongly suspected he, like his wife, had COVID-19, was afraid his newborn would contract the disease. He had no available relatives who could take the baby home. …

“ ‘Mrs. Lira, I know I can’t ask you this,’ he said one day, according to Lira.

“ ‘I said, “Don’t even say it because I’m going to,” ‘ Lira said. ‘ “You don’t even have to ask. My answer is yes.” ‘

Marvin insisted on making Lira’s husband Alex — who only knows a little bit of Spanish — part of the conversation before she brought a strange baby into the house, she said. ‘Marvin is amazing, a very, very responsible man,’ she said. ‘Even the nurse was crying.’ ..

“A colleague from school set up a gift registry for baby items. People donated supplies and food, she said. Then came the day of discharge. Donning a mask, gloves and protective covering, Lira took a car seat and headed to the hospital. … Marvin, who, like Lira, also was wearing head-to-toe protective gear, was standing on the opposite corner of the room, recording the moment from a distance with his phone.

“ ‘Oh … my … God. Hi, Baby,’ Lira said. The baby opened his eyes, looked at her and blinked, as if trying to figure out her role in his new life. …

“Since he arrived at her house, Neysel has been doing ‘amazing,’ said Lira, who sounds upbeat even when she’s dog-tired. ‘I work full time during the day, and at night, the baby’s up.’ Asked when she gets sleep, she laughed. ‘I’m getting strength from God.’ …

“Lira is more worried about Zully than herself. While her condition gradually improved, and Zully was discharged, she is far from recovered. She is having trouble walking. Lira said doctors wanted Zully to go into a rehabilitation center, but Zully and Marvin lack the insurance to pay for it because they both got laid off from their jobs at the beginning of the health crisis, essentially falling victim to the coronavirus twice. …

“ ‘My dream would be to have her home, with the baby, for Mother’s Day,’ she said.”

More at the Hartford Courant, here, and at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Natalie Bell
Natalie Bell and her kids, says CBC, “have been making Tik Tok and Instagram videos together to pass the time while they’re isolating at their home in Winnipeg, Canada.”

The other day, I took an online seminar on how to do TikTok. Just because. But even before I read today’s story, I was pretty sure you would need a teenager in the house to move to the next level. (Namely, the level beyond downloading the app.)

Rachel Bergen at CBC Manitoba writes, “Families cooped up together during the COVID-19 pandemic are turning to Netflix, board games and puzzles to get them through — but a few are going renegade and taking on TikTok dance challenges.

“Take Pat Tetrault and his three daughters in La Broquerie, Manitoba, who found they had an abundance of time on their hands and decided to use it making TikTok videos together.

” ‘They showed me a few TikToks that I thought were hilarious, so I said, “What the heck, let’s do something crazy. Let’s get something done,” ‘ he said.

“TikTok is one of the world’s most popular social media platforms, with more than 800 million people around the world using the app regularly to create and share short videos. It’s mostly popular with teens, who often post videos of themselves taking on dance challenges. …

“Although Tetrault is still going to work, his daughters are home and isolated from their friends. It can be challenging, he said, but the videos are ways they can have fun together — and his daughters can make fun of their dad. …

“Making creative videos is a great outlet, says parenting commentator Ann Douglas. The parenting book author and columnist for CBC Radio says children and teens are likely feeling very vulnerable and out of control, so parents ceding control of activities allows kids to take a bit more ownership of a challenging situation.

” ‘I think it’s great to let kids take the lead on some of the activities because right now, a lot of kids are feeling like they’ve lost all control over their life,’ she said. … ‘One thing kids can control is coming up with a way to have fun.’

“Tetrault’s daughters control their TikTok videos and, apparently, his dance moves.

” ‘I’ll be honest with you. I’m old school. I’m not a big dancer. … The girls are teaching me all sorts of new stuff. … We’re actually getting closer because of it. … It’s a different avenue of connecting with them.’

“Natalie Bell is also making TikTok videos using her account @pegcitylovely with her children to pass the time.

‘We try to do things more now as a family than we ever have before because, of course, it used to be just the business of the day. … It’s just something fun. There’s no stress, there’s no pressure. It’s just if we want to do it, we do it,’ Bell said. ‘We have fun and we don’t care who sees it.’ …

“In Trois-Rivières, Quebec, Nellie Guimond, Alexa Haley and Lily-Jade Haley create daily videos on TikTok featuring their mother, Cindy Guimond, and their dad, Éric Haley — whom they are teaching to dance.

” ‘Showing this to the world, to our family and friends, was really entertaining for everyone, and everyone loved it. I think that’s the main reason for our little popularity … his goofy side that people didn’t think he would, or could, show,’ Nellie said in a CBC Quebec AM interview.

“Lily-Jade said making the videos keeps them happy and connected.

‘Sometimes we laugh about our dad, because he doesn’t get the moves right away,’ she said. …

“[Parenting commentator] Douglas said there are many creative ways parents can connect with their children during the pandemic, and they don’t need to use social media to do it.

“For example, it can be an opportunity to try new things in the kitchen and access a kind of ‘improvisational inspiration,’ she says. ‘What if you only have these five or six ingredients? And what could you Google and find a recipe for? And how might it really turn out?’

“For parents of craft-loving kids, Douglas suggests making signs with community-minded messages to put in the window for others to see.”

OK, but if you ask me, TikTok videos of dancing dads who don’t know how to dance sure beats signs in the window.

More at the CBC, here.

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Photo: Anne Lakeman/Mediamatic ETEN
Testing the Serres Séparées safe-eating concept at Mediamatic restaurant in the Netherlands.

My husband keeps saying he can’t imagine that going to restaurants will ever be the same after coronavirus. In fact, he says, if nice restaurants continue doing takeout, maybe we should just stick with that.

Of course, restaurant owners are already thinking about these issues.

Byron Mühlberg reports from the Netherlands that the possibility of future guests requesting their own separate spaces has got some restaurateurs thinking creatively.

“With Dutch restaurants, bars and other catering services engulfed in uncertainty over how they might adjust to the 1.5-meter society,” he writes, “one Amsterdam restaurant is set to experiment with a brand new way of condoning off its guests: Using enclosed greenhouses.

“Mediamatic ETEN, part of a larger arts and entrepreneurship center focusing on sustainability, is a vegan restaurant. … From May 21, the restaurant will begin taking in guests, only this time they will be seated inside Serres Séparées (‘separated greenhouses’), enclosed glass structures, each equipped with a table for two or three diners.

” ‘This was one of the most feasible ideas from a large list of ideas we had when brainstorming,’ Mediamatic’s founding partner Willem Velthoven told NL Times. …

Initially, no more than three guests will be allowed to dine inside each greenhouse, even though there is the capacity for more. ‘[This is] is because we are now careful with our optimism,’ Velthoven explained. …

” ‘Bigger groups could [come] now, but then they should be families. For now, bigger groups are being discouraged because, from our experience, they are just louder and then you get the excited behavior causing spittle to fly and so on, and that’s the kind of behavior that would make the virus spread faster,’ Velthoven said. …

“Catering industry association KHN told NL Times, ‘We sent a protocol to the government two weeks ago, containing advice on how best to open the 1.5 [meter] distance. It is crucial that the government provide perspective quickly.’

“While KHN said it would not yet advise restaurants to reopen on June 1, renowned catering tycoon Laurens Meyer … questioned the idea of people becoming too careful with space.

” ‘We have to realize that there will always be some kind of virus. Whether it is worse than the flu, we have to see. If there is nothing left of our economy, we will no longer be able to afford health care and that will also cost human lives,’ explained Meyer.

“Velthoven, on the other hand, disagrees with Meyer’s approach, urging caution before advising restaurants to open their doors to the public without careful examination. ‘It’s about others and not just yourself in this case,’ he said. …

“Velthoven also understands the business argument, even though he has spent a career looking for creative solutions to problems instead of blunt responses. He ultimately wondered what the government’s plan is for the catering sector if those businesses are ordered to stay closed for a longer duration. If billions of euros are being diverted to KLM, he wonders what the government will be able to do to bail out his industry.

” ‘If I am not allowed to do anything the rest of this year, it’s finished,’ he lamented.” More at NL Times, here.

If you have heard of other good ideas for restaurants and bars in our cautious Covid-19 world, please share them in Comments. Pretty sure that there’s a large group of potential patrons who will be looking for the safest way to dine out — at least until a vaccine is widely available.

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Photo: Erin Clark/Globe Staff
Note that they are wearing gloves! Members of Chelsea Collaborative in Massachusetts pray before opening the doors to a pop-up food pantry. Covid-19 food distribution has been operating for about a month with food donated by local businesses and food pantries.

A sad but hardly surprising aspect of the Covid-19 plague is that the poor, minorities, and immigrants are often the most affected. A community in the Greater Boston area has been learning that the hard way. But in Chelsea there is a spirit of helping your neighbor that is a lesson for us all

Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker writes, “Gladys Vega’s office at the Chelsea Collaborative does not normally resemble a food pantry. But normal times ended in Chelsea roughly six weeks ago.

“’We probably have 2,000 people lined up, and I’m giving out food in an hour,’ she said when I talked to her Thursday afternoon.

“In a state that has become a hot spot of the coronavirus, hard-hit Chelsea might be its white-hot center. But the frightening prevalence of COVID-19 is only part of the reason her nonprofit has become such a popular spot.

“The city’s status as home to a large population of undocumented immigrants has taken on new meaning in recent weeks. The people Vega advocates for are being shut out of other means of assistance, such as stimulus checks — one more way the pandemic has deepened the divide between haves and have-nots.

“ ‘They don’t have income,’ Vega said. ‘And now they are not able to pay bills or buy food.’

“Vega is giving out not just donated food, but diapers and other supplies as well. For this, she has relied upon a network of donors cultivated over many years.

“That’s where her friend Bob Hildreth came in. Hildreth is a wealthy philanthropist, having made many millions in finance. After walking away from that he founded a nonprofit in Lynn to help poor families, especially immigrant families, save up to send their children to college by matching their savings. …

“Hildreth told me he thinks this is a critical time for philanthropists to do as much as possible to help those the federal government won’t.

“ ‘I don’t think my fellow philanthropists are acting fast enough,’ Hildreth said. “’When you need food and drink you need it within a week. I think this requires an extraordinary effort to get money to grass-roots organizations.” …

“The tragedy in Chelsea has mobilized donors large and small, Vega said. A produce collaborative has contributed food. A group of women in Cambridge have made regular deliveries of diapers and baby formula. Local bodegas that may not survive the lockdown are donating to the food supply.

“ ‘I’ve been so blessed,’ Vega said. ‘Two weeks ago I was crying because I had no food and I had a list of 200 people looking for food. Today we delivered 65 boxes of 25 pounds of food for people with COVID who can’t come out of the house. We call ahead and leave it outside.’

Especially striking has been the philanthropy of Chelsea residents with relatively little to give. ‘A man on Social Security gave me $10,’ Vega said. ‘A woman I don’t know gave me her stimulus check. She said, “You don’t know me, but I want to help.” It’s been the most beautiful show of poor people helping poor people.’

“By Vega’s reckoning, Chelsea’s recovery will be a long haul. The city had been turning around, but that’s been stopped in its tracks. As of last week, Chelsea had the highest per capita number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts.

“ ‘The coronavirus in one month has taken five years of progress,’ she said. ‘This is a war zone right now.’

“Still, she and her staff keep performing their daily triage operation, with no plans to slow down. She said she’s getting about two to three hours of sleep a night. For now, that’s enough.

“ ‘You see the line and it gives you energy,’ she said. ‘You don’t have time to think about pain. You just continue to go.’ ”

I crossed paths with philanthropist Hildreth in my last job, and I can attest that he is sets an example for philanthropy. But what touches me the most is that people who don’t have much are giving such a big chunk of what they have.

More at the Globe, here, and at the Chelsea Collaborative, here.

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Photo: Sky News
Dutch students sail across the Atlantic to get home after coronavirus blocks their flight.

Of all the nutty adaptations caused by Covid-19, this is one of the most unusual. A group of Dutch students who were on an educational sailing trip in the Caribbean were unable to fly home. So they sailed all the way back over the Atlantic Ocean.

Aleksandar Furtula (with contributions from Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague) reports at the Washington Post, “A group of 25 Dutch high school students with very little sailing experience ended a trans-Atlantic voyage Sunday that was forced on them by coronavirus restrictions.

“The children, ages 14 to 17, watched over by 12 experienced crew members and three teachers, were on an educational cruise of the Caribbean when the pandemic forced them to radically change their plans for returning home in March.

“That gave one of the young sailors, 17-year-old Floor Hurkmans, one of the biggest lessons of her impromptu adventure. …

“ ‘The arrival time changed like 100 times. Being flexible is really important.’

Instead of flying back from Cuba as originally planned, the crew and students stocked up on supplies and warm clothes and set sail for the northern Dutch port of Harlingen, a five-week voyage of nearly 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles), on board the 60-meter (200-foot) top sail schooner Wylde Swan. …

“The teens hugged and chanted each other’s names as they walked off the ship and into the arms of their families, who drove their cars alongside the yacht one by one to adhere to social distancing rules imposed to rein in the spread of the virus that forced the students into their long trip home.

“For Hurkmans, the impossibility of any kind of social distancing took some getting used to. … Her mother, Renee Scholtemeijer, said she expects her daughter to miss life on the open sea once she encounters coronavirus containment measures in the Netherlands.

“ ‘I think that after two days she’ll want to go back on the boat, because life is very boring back at home,” she said. ‘There’s nothing to do, she can’t visit friends, so it’s very boring.’ …

Masterskip, the company that organized the cruise, runs five educational voyages for about 150 students in all each year. Crossing the Atlantic is nothing new for the Wylde Swan, which has made the trip about 20 times.

“The company’s director, Christophe Meijer, said the students were monitored for the coronavirus in March to ensure nobody was infected. He said he was pleased the students had adapted to life on board and kept up their education on the long voyage.

“ ‘The children learned a lot about adaptivity, also about media attention, but also their normal school work,’ he said. ‘So they are actually far ahead now of their Dutch school colleagues. They have made us very proud.’

More at the Washington Post, here. A Reuters article with other details is here.

 

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Photo: Craig F. Walker/Boston Globe
Research scientist Hen-Wei Huang talked about Spot the robot during a demonstration at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

When Boston Dynamics first launched its robot dog, people regarded it more as a toy with fancy tricks than as a serious partner in the working world.

Then came coronavirus.

As Hiawatha Bray reports at the Boston Globe, the robot’s remarkable agility is one reason it has become useful for screening potential Covid-19 victims safely.

Bray writes, “At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the first encounter a potentially infected person might have is not with a doctor or nurse swathed in protective gear, but with a talking, animal-like robot that looks like it might have wandered off the set of ‘Star Wars.’

“Spot, the agile walking robot from Waltham-based Boston Dynamics, gained Internet notoriety for showing off its dance moves on YouTube. But now it’s going to work in the real world, striding into the danger zone, armed only with an iPad. The robot is posted just outside the hospital, not so much as a sentinel, but as an intake worker that will help doctors safely interview people who fear they may have been infected with the coronavirus. …

“The yellow-and-black Spot robot, which resembles a large dog, is positioned inside a big white tent set up in front of the hospital’s main entrance as a triage area for potential COVID-19 cases. It is fitted with an iPad that displays a physician located safely inside the hospital who can use the device’s camera to see the patient’s physical condition. The doctor can talk to the patient through the built-in microphone and a mounted speaker, asking standard diagnostic questions.

“The physician is also able to remotely control Spot, directing the machine to move around for a better perspective of the patient. …

‘Most people have been very excited to be interacting with this robot and mostly see it as something that is cool and fun,’ [said emergency room doctor Farah Dadabhoy].

“Michael Perry, Boston Dynamics’ vice president of business development, said that as early as February the company began receiving inquiries from hospitals worldwide. Was it possible, they asked, to use a Spot robot to conduct triage interviews? …

“Many had set up their COVID triage areas outdoors, on lawns or in parking lots. On such uneven surfaces, ‘traditional robotics doesn’t make sense,’ he said. ‘We need something that can handle this difficult terrain.’ …

“Doctors at the Brigham had also been looking into automated triage. In cooperation with engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, they worked on remote diagnostic sensors, but they needed a robot to carry them. So in March they reached out to Boston Dynamics.

“The result was a specially modified Spot, featuring the iPad and a little carrying pouch mounted near the robot’s ‘tail.’

“There’s nothing flashy about the pouch, but it’s quite practical. It allows Spot to deliver small items such as bottled water to infected patients, without the need to send in a nurse. Personnel can’t approach a COVID-infected patient, even for something as simple as giving him a bottle of water, without putting on safety gear. … With the medical version of Spot, health care workers can just put the bottle in the pouch and have it marched over to the patient. And the moisture-resistant robot is designed to be sanitized easily.

“The current version of Spot is only good for conducting interviews. But the Brigham will soon deploy an upgraded model with cameras that can measure a patient’s respiration rate and body temperature, with no need to make physical contact. …

The company said it is giving its medical hardware and software designs at no charge to any robotics company that cares to use them. Perry said Boston Dynamics has already had talks with a Canadian maker of wheeled robots.

Read more at the Globe, here.

Spot the Robot Dog in an earlier career as a YouTube dancing sensation.

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